Tag Archives: Alfonso Blanco

Arresting developments

Crime continues to be the dominant force in television drama. DQ speaks to a selection of leading writers and producers about the genre and finds out how their latest series are pushing the boundaries of traditional police stories.

Crime dramas continue to dominate the television landscape, whether viewers watch weekly episodes or binge the latest serialised boxset. Yet the genre has shifted a long way from the traditional crime procedurals best characterised by long-running US series like Law & Order and its many spin-offs.

“We’re constantly trying to reinvent it and find new ways to tell the same story,” says Steve Thompson, the showrunner of Vienna Blood. “Broadcasters are always asking for a new way to make a cop show, and going to Vienna in 1906 is a really new and fresh way to do it.”

Set before the dawn of forensic science, Vienna Blood is based on the novels by Frank Tallis. It sees Max Liebermann (Matthew Beard), a brilliant protégé of psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud, come into contact with Oskar Rheinhardt (Juergen Maurer), a detective struggling with an unusual and disturbing murder.

Endor Productions and MR Film are collaborating on three 90-minute films based on three of Tallis’s novels. They were commissioned by ORF in Austria and ZDF in Germany, with Red Arrow Studios International distributing.

Chilean series La Jauría (The Pack) focuses on an all-female police unit

“It has the same essential ingredients [of a crime drama] in that is has a great plot and great characters, which is really important, but this has a particular sheen that Vienna in 1906 gives it,” Thompson says. “It’s just a place you want to be. While some parts of it are very dark and terrifying, others are exhilarating to experience.”

More often than not, crime dramas are characterised by the person leading the investigation. In Vienna Blood, Liebermann is forging a new path in the use of psychology to solve crimes. In the case of Chilean drama Inspector Rojas: In Cold Blood, the titular investigator must come to terms with his complex past as he fights for justice and seeks inner peace through his police work.

The series, a Villano production for Mega, is based on real events from the 1990s and dramatises the disappearance of 12 young girls in the Alto Hospicio commune in northern Chile, triggering an investigation led by police captain César Rojas. It is distributed by DCD Rights.

Director and producer Juan Ignacio Sabatini says: “Rojas puts up a wall around himself to contain his inner demons but the wall begins to crumble just before he embarks on this journey. His need to find justice and to fight for justice is intrinsically linked with trying to solve his own issues. This inner strength is what makes him stand far above his colleagues.”

Parfum (Perfume) was commissioned by Germany’s ZDF in collaboration with Netflix

Sabatini believes “humans have always had a morbid interest in evil” – an interest that dramatically increases when a story is based on true events. But key to any successful crime series is the way the story is constructed to offer clues along the way. “Being able to give the audience a structured, yet broken, stream of information is crucial, as it means they are able to conjecture different scenarios as the case unfolds,” Sabatini adds.

Three investigators take centre stage in fellow Chilean series La Jauría (The Pack), but this eight-parter isn’t just a detective drama. Coproduced by Fabula and distributor Fremantle, in association with Kapow and public broadcaster TVN, it sees a specialist all-female police unit led by Elisa Murillo (Daniela Vega) tasked with solving the disappearance of a 17-year-old teenager involved in protests against a teacher suspected of sexually assaulting a student. A video of the missing girl being raped by a gang of men then goes viral, and the detectives soon learn there is more than one person behind the crime.

Lucia Puenzo

“These three policewomen are flesh and blood women trying to deal with their personal lives, as well as with the crimes they investigate,” showrunner Lucia Puenzo says. “What interested me the most is these women are faced with very sinister and very dark worlds, at the same time as, in their personal lives, they are faced with the universe of child tenderness, parenting, being in a couple, or solitude in the case of Daniela’s character.”

Those familiar with the 2006 German psychological crime thriller Perfume: The Story of a Murderer might remember the story of a killer with a unique sense of smell. That feature film has now been followed by a series, called Parfum (Perfume), commissioned by broadcaster ZDF in collaboration with Netflix, which carries the series outside Germany.

The story, based on the movie and the original novel by Patrick Süskind, follows a criminal profiler who begins to investigate the past lives of five school friends when they become linked to a murder. In a meta twist, it transpires they read Süskind’s novel at boarding school together and it inspires them to experiment with smells. The profiler then reads the book and watches the film to learn about the possible motives behind the crime.

“Perfume is unlike other crime series in that it combines a thrilling modern crime story, deep psychodrama and a seemingly esoteric topic such as the mystical power of smell,” says Oliver Berben, from producer Constantin Film. “It is also unusually original in terms of its visual and narrative style: beautiful but bleak, psychological but also extravagant, fantastical and hyper-realistic at the same time. We tried to create something without using existing patterns or paragons, with its very own look and feel.”

Dutch drama The Twelve offers a fresh perspective within the crime genre, putting viewers alongside the jury members who must determine the fate of a woman accused of a double murder.

Produced by Eyeworks for Eén and distributed by Federation Entertainment, the Flemish-language series introduces the members of the jury, alongside the accused and the victims’ families, exploring the case through the evidence presented during the trial and how the jurors’ personal lives affect, and become affected by, the proceedings.

Peter Bouckaert

“What really struck us – and became the main idea of the series – was when a woman told us she had a really dominant, jealous husband and then when she was on a jury, she started to see traits of her husband in the defendant. She was thinking that if she stayed with her husband, she might find herself in the same position [the victim of a crime perpetrated by her husband],” says Bert Van Dael, who wrote the series with Sanne Nuyens. “It was interesting for us to see how your private life may affect your judgement.”

Series producer Peter Bouckaert says that while most crime series follow trained professionals doing their job, this 10-parter sees people picked at random to decide another person’s fate. “When you’re watching a really good crime story through the eyes of the professionals, you are doing a bit of police work yourself,” he explains. “In this case, it’s truly a one-on-one experience with our main characters. People watching the series are put into the same position as them, and we think that’s unique.”

Spanish drama Hierro mixes crime and politics when a body is discovered in the sea, off the coast of a secluded island in the Canaries. The story focuses on a judge, who has recently arrived on the island, and a local businessman suspected of the crime. It is produced by Protocabo and Atlantique Productions for Movistar+ and Arte France. Banijay Rights is the distributor.

“We conceived the series as ‘southern noir,’ set in a place of luminous landscapes and passionate characters, full of humour and intensity, reflecting the reality of Spanish life,” explains executive producer Alfonso Blanco. “Crime drama is in constant evolution. It has changed over the past few years, in the same way as other genres, but what may be different now is its accessibility. Nowadays, an audience can watch the same series at practically the same time all over the world.”

For this reason, crime stories must also have universal topics and themes, whatever their setting or their approach to the genre. “The mechanics of a crime thriller can be followed in almost any country,” Blanco continues. “Add to this the fact that the duration of a miniseries allows for greater evolution of characters, helping to create a frame in which to develop different stories and characters. The genre also permits a sociological approach to different realities; therefore, the variety of stories is infinite.”

Spanish drama Hierro’s creators have labelled the show ‘southern noir’

Supposedly old-fashioned crime procedurals haven’t completely disappeared, however. Broadcasters around the world, particularly in Europe, are still keen on closed-ended, episodic series that viewers can enjoy without the commitment demanded by a serialised drama.

“Generally these days, the detective is dead, reincarnated or wearing an interesting hat. Everything has to be really quirky – and lots of those shows I love. But there isn’t a show like this,” Paul Marquess says of his Acorn TV series London Kills. “It does what it says on the tin.”

The series, distributed by ZDF Enterprises, follows a team of top detectives solving murders in London and represents a throwback to the episodic storytelling model that has been overshadowed by the current trend for bingeable series, with one story told over multiple episodes.

“It’s not wildly quirky. All the detectives are actually alive. There is, I hope, a very compelling serial story kicking along underneath it but what that really does is inform the relationship between the characters in an interesting way. That’s what it’s there for. Ultimately, I hope it reflects my fascination with the real versions of what these people do – and we all love a good murder mystery. It doesn’t have to be dressed up in Agatha Christie clothes. There isn’t, to my mind, an equivalent UK ‘murder of the week’ being shot at the moment.”

Meanwhile, Canadian series The Murders presents a unique concept for a procedural crime drama by using music and sound related to the theme of each episode. For example, episode one uses Long Black Veil – a ‘murder ballad’ originally written in 1959 and covered by artists such as Johnny Cash and Mick Jagger – as a key hook for the story.

Acorn TV’s London Kills is a procedural set in the UK capital

It’s part of a five-season plan to explore a different sense each year that showrunner Damon Vignale has designed for the series, which stars Jessica Lucas (Gotham) as a rookie homicide detective who searches for redemption after her negligence led to the death of a fellow officer. It is produced by Muse Entertainment for CityTV and distributed by About Premium Content.

“Music colours the world of the show and hopefully makes it a little different and stand out,” Vignale says. “But in terms of crime drama, people want a compelling story. They’re going to come back week after week for your characters but they have to be playing in this world.”

Vignale starts with the plot and then looks to see how its themes can be related to the characters. “Those things are at the forefront for me. Then, of course, you want really great twists and misdirects, you want to surprise people,” he continues. “I try to push a show as much as I can.”

There is no doubt crime drama remains the number one attraction for television viewers, but the fragmentation of the industry and the number of networks and streaming platforms commissioning original drama mean there are increasing opportunities to tell stories with a diverse range of topics, settings, characters and styles – none more so than in the crime genre.

“But what’s important is that the result is authentic and captures the audience it is aimed at,” Perfume’s Berben concludes. “Taking risks is not just an opportunity but, to a certain degree, a necessity.”

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Holding out for Hierro

The Canary Island of El Hierro lends its name to Spanish crime drama Hierro, a ‘southern noir’ story of the hunt for a killer. Executive producer Alfonso Blanco reveals all.

From being named best coproduction project at Berlinale 2015, it’s been a long journey to bring Spanish drama Hierro to the screen. Now backed by Spain’s Movistar+, the series will have its world premiere at Series Mania next week.

The title comes from El Hierro, a small volcanic island in the Canaries, where a corpse is found the water. Diaz, a local businessman, is set to prison for the brutal murder, until Candela, a forceful, temperamental judge, makes her first decision after arriving on the island – to release Diaz. While falling foul of the islanders, Candela believes she must do her duty, while Diaz is out to prove his innocence and uncover who has set him up.

The eight-part drama comes from Portocabo and Atlantique Productions in coproduction with Movistar+ and Arte France, with Banijay Rights distributing internationally. The series, which was filmed on El Hierro, was created by Pepe Moira and directed by Jorge Coira, with the cast led by Candela Peña (Princesa) and Darío Grandinetti (Wild Tales).

Here, executive producer Alfonso Blanco, from producer Portocabo, tells DQ more about the series.

Alfonso Blanco

Tell us about the origins of Hierro.
Hierro was designed as a coproduction to suit the international marketplace. Having observed the market just when Nordic noir was at its peak, we devised a new term to approach the market with – southern noir. With this term in mind, a brainstorming process culminated in an original idea by Pepe Coira in line with what we were looking for. From the very beginning, a story about a judge, a singular landscape and the island of El Hierro converged as a happy starting point.

How was the series developed?
The series was presented to the international market, firstly, at the Berlinale’s Co Pro Series event and then at Series Mania. During these two markets, the international coproduction was confirmed with Arte and Atlantique Productions, and Banijay Rights also joined the project at this time. After this, Movistar+ came on board, this being the company’s first international coproduction. The subsequent development process involving all parties was particularly fruitful.

Who are the main characters?
The main characters include a judge, recently arrived on the island, and a shady local businessman, the prime suspect of the crime. In this case, the main characters aren’t police officers. It’s a crime drama in which both characters and plot were developed from a realistic perspective. Everything that happens in the series could believably have taken place on El Hierro.

What do the stars bring to the series?
Both Candela Peña and Darío Grandinetti are renowned faces in cinema but are new to television series. The character of the judge, written two years before the final casting decision, was already named Candela – maybe a hint that the part was waiting for her. Both Candela and Darío’s approach to acting is based on realism. They are the best actors we could have wished for and they suit the characters perfectly.

What was Pepe Coira’s writing process?
Pepe came up with the original idea and is the creator of the series. Over a year, he wrote side by side with a team of five writers who worked closely with both Pepe and the four coproducers.

Actor Candela Peña with director Jorge Coira

How would you describe the tone of Hierro and how did director Jorge Coira work on the visual style?
Hierro is a character-driven crime drama with realism as its main focus – luminous and with great visual power. That is why Jorge Coira was the best choice. He’s a great director of actors and has his own visual universe.

How does this series present a new take on the crime genre?
We conceived the series as southern noir – a place of luminous landscapes and passionate characters, full of humour and intensity, and reflecting the reality of Spanish life.

How and why is the crime genre changing?
Crime drama is in constant evolution. It has changed over the past few years, in the same way as other genres, but what may be different now is its accessibility. Nowadays, an audience can watch the same series at practically the same time all over the world.

Why do you think crime stories continue to resonate with audiences around the world?
Crime stories engage due to their genre. To place characters in extreme situations is something that engages and excites audiences. Crime stories also have a universalising effect; the mechanics of a crime thriller can be followed in almost any country. In addition, the duration of a miniseries allows for greater evolution of characters, helping to create a frame in which to develop different stories and characters. The genre also permits a sociological approach to different realities, therefore the variety of stories is infinite.

How does the series balance strength of characters with the plot?
In Hierro we always had a clear idea that in a hierarchy between characters and plot, the characters came first. The story had to evolve in a natural way. To look for forced cliffhangers and effective turns wouldn’t fit into the series we were creating. We were looking for a series written upon the truth, on an existing reality, and we wanted to bring that reality into the story.

Darío Grandinetti stars alongside Peña

What was the biggest challenge during production?
The distance. El Hierro is the most remote of the Canary Islands, and getting all the equipment, the crew and the cast there was quite tricky. We also had to quantify our needs very accurately because to get things there was time-consuming.

How does the setting of the Canary Islands influence the story or the characters?
The protagonists of the story are not only Candela and Diaz but El Hierro too. The story couldn’t have happened anywhere else. El Hierro conditioned the life and reactions of all the characters enormously.

Why do you think Spanish drama is so popular right now?
Spain has been producing high-quality television drama for years, it’s not something that has just started. There is a solid television drama production industry in Spain. It began in the 1990s and now, 25 years later, it’s a very mature and capable industry. The worldwide success of series like La Casa de Papel [Money Heist] has turned the attention of international industry towards something that was already happening in Spain.

How is the industry in Spain changing? What new stories are being told?
In the beginning, there were only pubcasters and two private broadcasters in Spain. With the entrance of new operators, new opportunities arise. This has generated healthy competition, affecting the industry in a positive way. The OTTs and [pay TV platform] Movistar+ are not as conditioned by audiences, generating a space in which to produce more ambitious content. Now broadcasters are also open to coproductions, which will undoubtedly also affect the industry positively.

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